Five Minute Review: Empire of The Sun by JG Ballard

Five minutes to write a review on a recent read. Here we go:

Empire of The Sun by JG Ballard is a semi-autobiographical novel set in Shanghai (China) during the Japanese occupation of the 1940s.

The novel and centres itself Jim, a young boy born and raised in the Western ex-pat district of the city. Setting the scene on the eve of the Pearl Harbour bombings, what follows is a dramatic series of events resulting in Jim’s separation from his family and the experiences faced by the pre-teen as he fends for himself in Shanghai and in a series of labour camps. Despite all the horrors unfurling around him, Jim maintains an eerie calmness throughout, which is perhaps more disturbing at points than the war crimes themselves. The bright light of an atomic bomb takes the plot down a somewhat more dystopian route as the Japanese soldiers flee and the Western survivors and Chinese communists fight over what little remains. Ultimately Jim comes out of the War alive but a markedly changed person from the little boy we’re introduced to at the start.

Ballard’s novel is by no means an easy read. As the plot progressed I found myself increasingly frustrated by Jim’s naivety towards the growingly desperate situation, especially when it opened him up for other prisoners to take advantage. I am prepared to accept though that if I was a 11 year old in a work camp I might have adopted a similar coping mechanism. Regardless of this Empire of The Sun paints a fair reflection of the often overlooked period of Japanese occupation in China and the work camps. When so much has been written about World War Two in the West it was refreshing to read something with an Eastern focus.

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